“It’s hell in Soledar” – this is how the former company commander of the Aidar Battalion, Yevhen Dykiy, curtly characterized the hottest spot on the front in an interview with Radio NV on Jan. 12.
The soldiers defending the town say they are fighting for every house, and for every basement.
According to Dykyi, many units were dismantling their positions and preparing for an organized retreat a week ago. But then the military was ordered to hold on, and reinforcements were sent to them.
Dykyi shared his thoughts on what the rationale for this was – and whether the order was wise or wrong.
– Yevhen, do you have many comrades-in-arms in Bakhmut and Soledar? What’s happening there now?
– To put it very briefly: it’s hell there. There are battles taking place there the like of which the world has not seen since the Second World War, which could no longer be imagined in our time.
As a person who has participated in hostilities, I’m very wary of defining heroes. I don’t believe that anyone who took up a weapon and went to war is immediately a hero. No, you just did your duty, that’s the norm. But all those who are holding Soledar and Bakhmut, really everyone who fought there for at least a few days, are real heroes.
It’s almost impossible to hold on there since the war is absolutely not like what we have already seen. It’s close contact combat all the time, these are street battles in built-up areas, or rather in what’s left of those built-up areas. These are battles in the ruins, battles for every house, for every basement.
It even happens that one entrance (to a building) is ours, and another one is theirs. One of my friends, for example, fought directly inside a school: one wing of the school was ours, and another wing of the school was under the control of the invaders. There was a fight both in the school’s corridors and in the gym.
What follows from this? Armored vehicles are of no use, they just don’t survive there at all. Accordingly, they don’t go there now. Because if they enter (the town), they can “live” for several minutes. This applies to both us and them.
Accordingly, logistics is also affected. You might get to the town and deliver something, but it’s impossible to do so within those quarters where the fighting is underway...
And now add frost to this picture. You understand that when it’s fighting, one basement is ours and another one is theirs, you can’t set up a normal stronghold with a stove, with those great warming candles, no. Unfortunately, you have to warm yourself with some minimal fires, which you can’t even light every day. Chemical heaters that are tucked under body armor vests and chemical warm insoles in shoes only help a little. By the way, they’re now worth their weight in gold.
It’s very difficult and very harmful for your health. Currently, our doctors may confirm that they have many more people with frostbite than with wounds. This is an additional problem that has to be solved on the spot.
With such a close contact battle, when our guys are mixed with theirs, of course, our artillery doesn’t work in such residential quarters. You can’t load a projectile with such accuracy to know that it was the orcs (sic, meaning Russians) that were killed, and not our guys.
But the orcs’ artillery does fire. That is, if some quarter is not only theirs, but is also mixed with our defenders, they calmly direct their artillery there. They’re absolutely calmly and deliberately killing their own soldiers to capture our guys along with theirs. This is really something inhuman, this is something from the times of the Soviet Union.
In fact, they’re lining their way there with the corpses of their own fighters. In fact, they’re covering our defenders with corpses there. But the fact that they’re suffering terrible losses doesn’t make it easier to hold on there.
And staying there is a superhuman-task. And the fact that we have withstood this assault for so long is actually already a remarkable feat.
As of today, we’re holding about a quarter of Soledar, they have already taken three quarters, including the central part of the town. But in this case, the fundamental difference is three quarters or the whole town. After all, the occupation of Soledar will be a tactical success for them, but we have still prevented them from doing so.
How many more days will our guys stay there? I can’t say. You can tell only if you are directly there, on the spot.
– You understand from the course of hostilities that Ukrainian troops will have to leave Soledar one way or another…
– Most likely. Let’s say it like that.
– But I suspect, I understand, that many political processes surround all that is happening in Soledar. At least some success is important for the Russians on the eve of mobilization. They say that it was important for (the owner of the Russian Wagner mercenary company, Yevgeny) Prigozhin to promote himself. But apparently there is some political decision on the part of the Ukrainian authorities to hold Soledar. What is the expediency of this now? You say, I don’t know how many days they will stay, but there is a need to hold on. How do you think?
– This is a really difficult question for me. Here we’re already entering the realm where I can only suggest, because I’m not on the General Staff, not in the Headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
From the outside, it looks like there’s a political, not a military solution on both sides, and a political, not a military expediency. These, as they say in Odesa, are two big differences.
From a military point of view, the value of Soledar lies only in the fact that its capture can facilitate the subsequent capture of Bakhmut. Soledar itself is of no interest at all. If it completely goes under the control of the invaders, the already difficult life of the Bakhmut garrison will become very complicated. Then it will be necessary to repel the attack not from one direction, but from two at once.
And communications leading to Bakhmut are under a certain amount of threat. They won’t be interrupted, no, there is no need to listen to Russian propaganda reports that “if Soledar is captured, Bakhmut is immediately encircled.” No, it’s not like that at all. But a certain threat will really appear to the rear communications and, accordingly, to the provision of our troops.
That is, Soledar is not taken by itself, but as a prelude to the possible capture of Bakhmut. But Bakhmut itself has also no strategic military significance.
Here I will even refer to such an authority who is not on our side, but who understands the realities of war, the realities of the front – (Russian military blogger and convicted MH17 mass murderer) Igor Girkin. Although he rejoices in their tactical successes, this is logical, but at the same time he formulates in direct text: even if they take Soledar, Bakhmut and Siversk, this is the end of the advance.
That is, there is no question of (the Russians gaining) any control over the whole of Donbas at all. Because later they will face the powerful agglomeration of Slovyansk-Kramatorsk, where our fortified defense lines have been set up since 2014. And if they have been storming Bakhmut since September, and even if they capture it, for example, by the end of January, then it will be five months. Accordingly, they could storm Slovyansk and Kramatorsk for several years with just the same success. That is, they won’t win anything strategically.
What is it about? Most likely, it is about the internal affairs. The criminal, bandit (Wagner mercenary company owner Yevgenniy) Prigozhin wants to show that he is a real commander and rub the noses of all these staff generals, their professional soldiers, that they are all now only in defense, and he is still capable of capturing cities. This is their internal (politics).
But first of all, I think this is about politics specifically for the Russian electorate: the average Russian needs to be shown that “not everything is so clear-cut.” Because in fact everything is quite clear so far: Lysychansk is the last noticeable, sufficiently large Ukrainian town that they captured.
Lysychansk was captured in the first week of July. And since that time, since the middle of July, they have not captured any city at all, only lost them. But we continued to liberate them. It’s very important for them to show that the war is not over and already heading towards their inevitable defeat, but that it is a kind of pendulum swinging in different directions. Like “we retreated in some areas, but it’s okay that one of these areas is half of Kharkiv Oblast, and the second area is the entire right-bank Kherson Oblast together with Kherson, but we captured Bakhmut in the third area.”
This is exactly the kind of political narrative (they want): to demonstrate that they are not only in retreat and defense.
And then the question arises: why did we accept this, why did we pick up such a political promotion of Bakhmut? And here I just don’t have enough information to assess: whether we accepted their psy-op and are making a mistake, or on the contrary, this is a wise strategic decision. Because in order to understand this, you should be involved in the negotiations with our allies.
I suppose that the surrender of Bakhmut would probably cost us a lot in terms of adding arguments to those in the West who are generally against our victory but are in favor of freezing the conflict.
And it could in this case affect the supply of Western weapons to us. If there really is such a threat, then, unfortunately, we really have to hold on at any cost.
By the way, the defense of Severodonetsk played a similar role at one time. From a military point of view, Severodonetsk was held for at least two weeks too long – it should have been surrendered earlier. But just at that moment, many things were being decided by the allies.
And the resilience our defenders showed there, the length of time we forced the Russians to take in order to capture one big city, played a very significant role in making a decision about how much to help us.
Perhaps it’s a similar story now.